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Steve Pipps’ Road Diaries (Part 3 of 4): Santa Fe

Driving through the southwest is awful. It’s beautiful, but also awful in so many ways. As the land stretches for miles in every direction, you start to go a little crazy on long drives. Objects that are miles ahead of you never seem to arrive, you feel like you aren’t going anywhere. A drive that takes eight hours feels like it takes sixteen. And after those eight hours you feel like you haven’t slept for days. It is a toll you have to pay to get across the country by car.

The most important thing to focus on is the destination. Whatever it might be it will be better than the confines of your car that feels smaller and smaller by the hour. In this case Santa Fe was the destination and eight and a half hours was the time of travel. That included the top of Texas and the first half of New Mexico. It’s hotter than hell and flatter than all of my jokes.

Santa Fe, The City Different.

Season 1 Episode 3: “What the F*ck is in Santa Fe”

 That is the sentiment I was uttering until I arrived in the New Mexico state capital and the oldest capital city in the United States. The City Different, as it is sometimes called, actually has more to offer than one can consume in a week. With all of the shops, historical sites and restaurants you will be scrambling to see everything.

The first thing you notice is the architecture. All buildings are adobe style, with different colored stucco to add variation across the city. We pulled off of the highway and drove through the city towards our hotel, which was just a few minutes away from San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the US.

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San Miguel Mission: Photo by Steven Pipps

We stayed at the Sage Inn, a southwest-style inn that features the popular ristra’s as decoration. One thing you will notice about almost all of the buildings is that they feature ristra’s hanging out front. A ristra is an arrangement of dried chili pepper pods. Historically, they were hung for the function of drying them out and many still do this, but they have also become a staple decoration in New Mexico to represent their heritage.

Immediately we needed food and turned to our smart phones to find the best local Mexican cuisine and margaritas. We were directed to Maria’s, allegedly the favorite dining spot of locals and Robert Redford when he is in town. It features homemade Mexican food and fantastic margaritas made with 100% blue agave tequila; literally everything we were looking for.

Our waitress was a nice woman who guided us through the house specialties including the famous blue corn enchiladas. We ordered our margaritas and took our first sip before we placed our order. Maria’s has over 100 variations of margaritas, but I went with the simple House Special made with El Jimador Reposado tequila and triple-sec. Never has a margarita tasted so fresh and crisp. My sister ordered the slightly varied House Tradition, which is made with Cuervo Traditional 100% Reposado, triple-sec and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Both were delicious and we were unadventurous in our selections but sometimes you can’t beat the classics.

For food I decided on Maria’s Famous Spare Ribs. They were the best way to continue the Trip of the Rib I had started way back in Nashville. The homemade barbeque sauce was tangy and sweet with a southwestern feel. The meat fell off the bone and paired perfectly with the rice and beans on the side. My sister ordered the chicken fajitas with homemade flour tortillas. If you have never had a homemade flour tortilla, they are lighter and more flavorful than those purchased in the store and Maria’s has perfected the recipe.

After dinner, we were too tired for any bar activity, but we decided to see some of the town including the Plaza and the San Miguel Mission. We made the short drive and parked at the Mission. Although we were too late to walk inside, it is a beautiful structure. Restored to fix repairs over the years it stands majestically and when viewed at sunset, the rays of the sun give it a glow that only fits such a historical building.

The mission was built sometime between 1610 and 1625, but was damaged during a revolt in 1680. It was rebuilt in 1710. Although I’m not religious, the Mission has such a aura of historical significance that can be felt by anyone standing in front of it.

Only a few blocks down is the Plaza. It is known as “the heart of Santa Fe” and stands as a gathering place for concerts, art showings and a comforting place to enjoy all that the city has to offer. Surrounding the Plaza, there are a number of shops that sell turquoise jewelry, a stone that is famous in New Mexico’s jewelry. Also in the Plaza is the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, which houses a collection of black ware pottery.

Once you’ve seen the Plaza and the San Miguel Mission, call it a night.

If you have more time to look around, explore more of the Plaza, because not all can be seen in a single night. Look for other restaurants that feature delicious local cuisine such as El Chile Toreado or Tabla de Los Santos.

There are so many antique shops to explore that are home to beautiful pottery and antique pieces that are native to Santa Fe and the southwest.

As for us, the second to last leg of the drive was calling to us early the next morning.

We hit the complimentary breakfast at the Sage Inn, which was the only thing lacking at the hotel. We drove around the city one last time and stopped into a few other antique shops to look around. Even if we wanted anything, we couldn’t fit it into the car.

With only 12 hours to go before we arrived in California, we pushed on to Phoenix and found we liked it a lot more than we thought we might.

Stay tuned for part four of my four-part piece on How to Travel Across America in Style. (Read part one, Nashville, here; and read part two, Oklahoma, here. By Steve Pipps

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Photo by Steve Pipps